A comfort zone is a safe, familiar place where risk and fear of the unknown are minimised. It’s easy to become comfortable enough in this secure zone that taking steps outside of it can feel daunting and might initially bring on feelings of fear or anxiety.
However, some of the best things in life often happen once we ride those nervous waves, and accomplish something that we never thought we could.
There’s some science behind the concept of ‘comfort zones’ which helps to explain how they are formed, and why it can be tempting for us to stay there.
Research shows that once our brains become used to performing an action (after repeating it many times), their learning centres shut down, and we no longer have to put as much conscious effort into the task in question. When this happens, the action becomes comfortable, and we can often perform it in “autopilot mode.”
For example, you might have three dinner options that you rotate through every week, and because these meals are so familiar to you, perhaps you no longer think about how the food tastes, or about the steps of the cooking process. Or perhaps you’ve become very comfortable at work, so much so that you can happily complete tasks while thinking about other things.
Repeating these familiar tasks and being able to somewhat switch off from our surroundings can lead us into a comfort zone – and the longer we stay here, the harder it can be for us to leave. Comfort zones tend to offer us security and predictability, so swapping this for uncertainty and risk can be tricky.
It’s important to remember that there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with staying in your comfort zone, but that achieving personal growth in your comfort zone can be difficult. It’s usually when we challenge ourselves to try new things (even when we aren’t sure how they will pan out) that we experience the biggest sense of satisfaction, pride, and accomplishment. We can also learn more about who we are, move closer to our goals, and gain confidence in our ability.
If you want to start taking steps outside of your comfort zone but feel nervous about doing so, then hopefully the following six tips will help. Try to keep in mind that even small steps can go a long way in helping us to break free from boredom, monotony, and self-limiting thoughts.
Having goals and ambitions can be exciting but it can also be scary – often because we are worried about failure or about what other people might think. Sometimes, we might also find it difficult to cope with the fact that we cannot predict the specific outcome of an action that feels unfamiliar to us.
When this happens, it can feel tempting to avoid the thing that is making us feel fearful and to play it safe by taking no action at all or performing an alternative more familiar action instead.
However, when we overcome fear by facing the thing that scares us and defeating it, we become more resilient and will often feel stronger and better able to cope with whatever comes our way as a result. In most cases, the only way we can move past fear and not let it hold us back is to feel the fear and do the thing that scares us anyway.
Plus, there’s a fine line between fear and excitement. So next time you feel nervous or scared, why not tell yourself that you’re actually just excited instead? You might be surprised at how effective this can be at taking the edge off your fear.
Life itself is a huge learning curve, and if we choose to, we can continue learning for as long as we live. What you choose to learn is completely up to you – perhaps you’ve always wanted to learn a language, complete a degree, or take up a craft. Learning new skills can take courage, determination, and patience, but the rewards are nearly always worth it.
Learning new skills can benefit us in multiple ways from acting as conversation starters when meeting new people to giving us more job opportunities, through adding meaning and purpose to our lives.
It’s easy to spend ample time overthinking something that we want to do, whether it’s going to dinner with a group of friends, going for that first run in several years or months – or applying for that new job.
While it’s important to put some level of thought into larger decisions, i.e., whether you can financially afford to take a new job once it’s offered to you, whether you should stay with a partner, or whether you should sell your house – putting too much into everything can lead to nothing happening at all.
When we spend excessive amounts of time thinking and planning, it’s easy to talk ourselves out of situations, even ones that we initially felt good about. We can avoid this by putting a limit on the amount of time we allow ourselves to mull something over, and trusting our gut instinct more.
Getting to know new people is a helpful way to step outside of your comfort zone and open new doors in life. People are fascinating, and a conversation with someone new can take many interesting turns. Connecting with others introduces us to new perspectives, hobbies, friends, ideas, jobs, and the list goes on.
Many times, the reason that we feel hesitant about the idea of mixing with new people is that we feel worried about the fear of judgment, and we might ask ourselves questions such as: Will I be liked? What will I say? Or, what if it’s awkward?
However, this is usually our inner critic talking, and once we learn to challenge these questions by answering them positively, and deciding to meet people anyway, then we usually feel less worried and more excited about the idea of meeting new people. It can help to start small. So why not commit to introducing yourself to one new person a month, either online or in person?
Exploring new places is a wonderful way to step outside of your comfort zone, while collecting lots of lasting memories to boot. When we go on adventures, we experience the world in new ways, through the different sights, sounds, cultures, and people that we meet along the way.
When we are in unfamiliar territory, we tend to become much more in tune with our surroundings, while we try to soak them in – which is why people often head off travelling when they want to shake up their life or feel more alive.
There are various different ways that you could plan an adventure, and just how adventurous you want to get is up to you. Perhaps you’d just like to visit somewhere that you’ve never been before, or maybe you’d like to really spice things up by adding in a challenging activity like bungee jumping, wild camping, or white water rafting.
If you want to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new but you’re worried about what might happen when you do, then one of the most helpful things you can do is to keep an open mind. Part of keeping an open mind involves letting go of expectation and accepting that you don’t know what the outcome will be, and that this is okay.
Keeping an open mind also means seeing every situation as a chance to learn and grow, rather than an opportunity to either succeed or fail. Even if something doesn’t turn out how you hoped it would, this doesn’t necessarily make it a failure. As Oprah Winfrey once said, “There’s no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”
Letting go of our fear of failure can be an incredibly liberating experience because the sky becomes the limit, and the world becomes your oyster.
Have you stepped outside of your comfort zone recently? What’s the most challenging, yet rewarding thing you’ve done? Do you have any additional tips to share on stepping outside of your comfort zone?